Brian's Ramblings

My thoughts in text, photo, and video form

Saturday, May 21, 2016


"Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose - not the one you began with perhaps, but one you'll be glad to remember." -Anne Sullivan
Graduation are special occasions, as graduates celebrate their accomplishment with friends and family. Be it high school, undergraduate, graduate, medial, or doctorate degrees - ALL of these milestones are to be treasured.

These moments can also be stressful, as you have family members waiting to celebrate with you. "When are you graduating?" was the most common question I was asked during my journey as a student. In fact, it still is a question posed to me by many. It's an exciting question, as those asking are eager to celebrate WITH you!

One of the hardest things, at least for me, has been telling people that I won't be "Dr. Kajiyama" or have three letters after my name - "PhD." It is definitely NOT one of my preferred topics of conversation. But, it's reality and one can never escape that.

In order to fully understand why this decision was challenging and "painful," I would like to take a look back with you.

On July 18, 1976, around 11:15AM, my mom gave birth to me at the old Kapiolani Children's Hospital, which was located in Liliha, where the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific is housed now. I really enjoyed sleeping in my mom's belly, so I was late in arriving (I guess nothing really changes!). Upon delivery, doctors realized I was in distress as the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck. It's been estimated I was without oxygen for fifteen (15) minutes; I fought to live, so I ingested amniotic fluid, desperately trying to breathe in oxygen. This caused both lungs to collapse. Tubes were inserted into both lungs to get them filled again; the scars remind me of this each day. Additionally, an intravenous therapy (IV) was started on the left side of my skull, as that was the most visible vein at the time. Medicine to get me back to baseline was injected; doctors didn't realize how strong those drugs would be, so I'm reminded of that with a scar in the form of a bald spot (size of a quarter) on my left side of my head. Luckily, the hair from the rest of my head covers it. Or I simply wear a baseball cap.

The first 48 hours were considered "critical," as if I made it through that period, the odds of me living became greater. My parents had to endure hearing doctors say, "you can be guardedly optimistic," which kind of brings down the level of joy of the birth of your first child. God definitely had/has a purpose for me, as I made it through that period.

I went home and was cared for as any other child would be. To get me to sleep, my parents took me on long drives, only to park the car at a condo near the Blaisdell Center and have me wake up screaming again! Fun times, indeed.

I started my educational journey at the age of two months, as my parents were referred to Easter Seals Hawaii, particularly for the infant stimulation program. This was not only beneficial for my development, but my parents found support in parents experiencing similar feelings with their children. NO parent expects a child to be born with a disability. It happens, you deal with it.

Upon graduating from Easter Seals Hawaii, I matriculated to Jefferson Elementary School in Kapahulu. We lived in Kaneohe at that time, but both of my parents worked in town, so it was easier to have me dropped off at the Respite Care program at Easter Seals Hawaii.

At Jefferson Elementary, I had wonderful teachers in special education who challenged me mentally. Eventually, I would be mainstreamed from about the fourth grade. This meant attending general education class for mathematics. I did well in that, so for my remaining years at Jefferson, I was fully mainstreamed for all core subjects (math, reading, science, etc) and I would come back to the special education class for therapy (speech, occupational, and physical). I enjoyed learning and enjoyed being with my peers, in both general and special education.

Prior to finishing at Jefferson Elementary, my parents and I met with the principal of the "feeder school" at Kaimuki Intermediate. I know this individual is still at Kaimuki, so I won't disclose any names. But this individual told my parents and I that I would need to prove myself in a fully self-contained special education class for an entire quarter, before they would consider mainstreaming me. The principal knew of my being mainstreamed at Jefferson Elementary, but held strong to whatever beliefs were present. Instead of fighting with this person and a set way of thinking, my parents decided to have me attend Kailua Intermediate School (KIS), upon graduating from Jefferson.

BEST decision, ever! From day one, I was greeted by the entire school administration as I got off the school bus and everyone was so welcoming! I immediately made friends, which was unexpected, as I knew nobody. The school placed me in basic courses, ensuring I would have a positive experience at KIS. I proceeded to earn a 4.0 that first quarter, making a deal with my dad; I could get a Nintendo gaming console if I had all A's. After my first quarter, I thought, "I might get lots of cool stuff at this rate!" 

To the credit of the KIS school administrators, they wanted me to really learn and have a quality education, so they placed me in gifted and talented (GT) classes. I would have a period to return to a special education classroom to receive therapy (speech, occupational, and physical). I remained a "good" student, taking pride in my academics. I was also experiencing the fun of having friends living close enough so I could have fun with them away from school. Daniel Schmidt was the first boy who befriended me; he had curly, reddish hair, and sat by me as if we had been pals forever. And I was using a communication board, where I spelled out what I wanted to say by pointing letter-to-letter. After a while, Dan became good at reading my thoughts, so I might point to the first two letters of a word and he'd finish it. 

One of my fondest memories was playing stick ball at recess and after lunch. One of the greatest athletes in Hawaii history, Alika Smith, was one of my pals, so I got to play stick ball with him! During intramural basketball, his team would ALWAYS win because Alika was just so gifted. I believe during computer class, I told him via my letter board, "I hope you go to UH and become a star there!" Those who follow University of Hawaii sports know about the dynamic duo of Alika and AC Carter, arguably the best back court in Rainbow Warrior basketball history.

I graduated from KIS, but not before receiving a deficiency notice from Mrs. Lorna Reyes, one of the BEST GT English teachers in the state of Hawaii! I simply stopped doing my homework for her class, thinking I'd get a free pass due to having a disability. I was badly mistaken! A deficiency notice was sent home and had to be returned, signed by my parents. I received one of the most epic lectures from both of my parents, but I think my mom came down on me much harder. I believe she might have yelled so much that she cried; it's a SICK feeling to know you've let your loved ones down. So, from that day forward, I never used my disability as an excuse for ANYTHING.

My time at KIS was fun, I participated in many activities, I even served on the student council and was selected "Mr. Japanese" for May Day. At least I can say I was Mister something when I die! Graduation at KIS was interesting. The stage had no ramp (what's with my penchant in finding stages with no ramp?!), so my dad had to use telescopic aluminum planks to get me up and down the stage. On the way up, or down, the ramp one came to help, but luckily I didn't fall! Another thing that I'm happy about is an elevator was installed a week prior to my graduating. My GT Social Studies class was upstairs, and the teacher didn't want to relocated to a class on the ground floor, so I couldn't take that class. I also had to pass up being vice-president of the student council, as meetings were held upstairs and the advisor didn't want to relocate. Perhaps, this is where my passion to advocate was fostered.

I moved onto Kailua High School (KHS) and started in the summer, just to get my feet wet and get accustomed to being at a big school. The bus dropped me off in front of the school's office. An educational assistant (EA) greeted me and instructed me to follow the other students to the classroom. I was signed up for Pre-Algebra, so I  thought maybe my math class would start later. So, I obediently go to the special education classroom, was seated at a desk. The bell rang and the teacher passed out worksheets. I can't recall the specifics, but I know one entailed writing words and another required drawing a line within lines. So, in my mind I'm thinking, "High school is SO much easier than I expected!" But after receiving another worksheet, and finishing it quickly, only to be told that I'm rushing through and I missed a spot, I knew I was "out of place." So, I wrote, "I think I'm in the wrong class, I should be in Pre-Algebra."

This started some chaos. "Oh my gosh, you should have told us sooner!" my teacher said. I was ushered to my math class and saw some of my peers from KIS and felt "at home," once again.

I was nerdy in high school, as I had dreams of attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa. My goal was to be a computer scientist/programmer. I excelled in English and Social Studies, but didn't do as well in Science and Math. For Science, I requested a note-taker, but the teacher said, "No, I need to get you ready for college, and you won't receive such help there, so I don't want to give you that here." Another response I can look back and smile upon. In my Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry class, I ended up failing, despite going in daily for tutoring. In my senor year, I repeated Algebra 2 and breezed through it.

I made great friends at KHS, too. Brent Yoshikawa, who is now working for Homeland Security in Missouri,  Edward Priddy, who is a graphic artist and designer in Oklahoma City, and I still remained close to Dan, who had a nice career in the NFL's league office, running online auctions. I was horribly awkward with girls - some things never change!

I was great friends with girls, but didn't go to any proms. Shelly Matsuura, a senior portfolio associate in California, was a classmate I could chat with for hours and hours. During our junior and seniot years, the Internet was just starting to come to life, so we were issued computers that ran on a phone modem and allowed us to communicate with our classmates. I recall conversing with Shelly until the wee hours of the morning, just because it was fun! I didn't have guts to ask anyone out to proms, nor did anyone ask me. If I could have a "do over," I would have attended at least one prom, as that's something unique to being in high school.

Academics were my way to gain acceptance from the larger student body. In the halls, I could hear students telling their friends, "you see that kid? He's like a genius, you know." As a teen, you accept such labels, for there could be other words said. I recall my GT English teacher, Mrs. Barbara Teruya, and my GT Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Jan Young, being exemplary educators. They challenged me, but also provided appropriate supports. For oral presentations, because I had no communication device, I had my "speech" written on large lined-paper; either my mom or friends would help me write everything out that I typed. Technology was still evolving, so I couldn't mirror anything up onto a projector. But I learned a lot, not just about the content for subjects, but I learned about myself.

I still envisioned myself typing code by myself in some dark room, interacting minimally with humans.

My very good friend, Ed, who moved to Virgina to finish school since his dad was in the military; he surprised me by showing up at my house, keeping his promise to attend my graduation! We kept in touch via AOL Chat, but until he actually appeared at my front door, I had doubts! But, it was wonderful having him here. KHS graduation is a blur, but my parents said the entire student body gave me a standing ovation as I rolled across the stage (KHS had a ramp! UH-Manoa,'s COE you can be just as good with this!!!).

I was admitted into the University of Hawaii at Manoa after my second attempt with the SAT. I was still set on majoring in computer science, but that dream was quickly squashed, as I could not make sense of Trigonometry to save my life! So, I explored majors for a few years. Economics and English are two that I recall exploring. Again, I was limiting my options to career paths that required the least interactions with people as possible.

I had health issues and ended up taking about a year off from school. But, when I returned, I came with a mindset that I had to "give back" in some way. So, I found Interdisciplinary Studies and created my own major, "Advocacy for People with Disabilities." I selected courses related to this from a variety of departments.

In one class, I met Mark Yap, who is now the IT director for CRDG at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. For a class project, he produced a video about my life, which he titled, "If I Could Change the World." It was well produced, with the help of Doug Hamasaki of CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources). Both became great friends of mine.

In my final semester as an undergraduate, I was tired of school, as I had been in some educational setting for about 25 years, starting at the age of o-months and completing my Bachelor's of Arts Degree when I was about 25. However, I was enrolled in a class taught by Dr. Norma Jean Stodden and Dr. Steve Brown, who allowed me to take the course intended for graduate students. There were master's and doctoral students; some started asking me, "what graduate program will you be applying to?" More school, really?! But, as I talked with more of my peers, the idea of pursuing a master's in counseling sounded appealing. The kid who wanted minimal interactions with humans wanted to pursue counseling, go figure!

I applied to the Guidance and Counseling program, specifically Vocational Rehabilitation counseling. I felt this would truly allow me to "give back" to my community. I enjoyed the journey and met really wonderful people along the way. Dr. Brenda Cartwright was the chair of the VR component of the department and she challenged me to be the best I could be. She also questioned why I didn't have a communication device. Around this time, I reconnected with Dr. Jim Skouge, who was starting in the Department of Special Education. I was fortunate to anchor myself in Jim's office, Wist Hall 118. 

I met Kavita Rao, who was completing her doctorate, and we would meet weekly to just write together. This support was invaluable, as she held me accountable. I completed a Plan B (thesis) paper, which was about the challenges in obtaining assistive technology (AT) from the State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR).

In my last year of my master's, I met Bruce Flemming, who was a representative for DynaVox. He met with Jim and showed him a DynaWrite. Jim immediately felt I might take a liking to this device. And Jim was right; I LOVED it! I won't rehash what transpired with DVR, but if you're interested, you can look back at one of my earliest blog entries.

Again,  after completing my M.Ed. I thought I would be done with school. But, an opportunity arose, which entailed having a PhD in Exceptionalities (Special Education) funded through a grant. Only six individuals would be selected, and applications came in from across the world. So, my competitive nature kicked in and I applied; my goal was to just get to the interview process.

On my mortar board of my graduation cap, I had "2 ↓, One to Go," as I fully intended to earn the highest degree possible, a PhD.

The opportunity to be interviewed never came to pass, as an e-mail from Dr. Mary Jo Nooan, chair of the PhD in Exceptionalities program, informed me I was selected and no interview was necessary. I was happy and then thought, "what have I got myself into?!"

It was also in this same semester, Fall 2007, that I became a graduate assistant with the Hawaii Warriors Football team, under the leadership of June Jones. I made sure to maintain a very clear schedule, where I would do my work with the team from early morning up until the early afternoon. Then I would attend class, go home and have a bite, study, and sleep so I could repeat this routine again.

Course work was extremely enjoyable, as I took all courses with my cohort peers. We would study, have preparation sessions, and make sure we took time to socialize all together. I was well on my way to being able to sit for comps (comprehensive examination), which was a step before proposing a dissertation. I had a great PhD advisor in Dr. Dennis McDougall, who I selected since I knew he could push me to become a more polished writer (academic/APA-like). All of the major components were completed and cleared by Dennis; my lone artifact was a mini-study.

I planned to pound this out using data collected at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind (HSDB), where I worked with Jim to teach students to produce multimedia pieces. I would examine the effect that multimedia had in the students' perception of learning while teaching simple skills (such as preparing a healthy meal).

I also started teaching SPED 480 - Technology for Children with Disabilities - for the department, which quickly kindled a LOVE in teaching! Yes, the kid who wanted as minimal interaction with human beings now loved teaching.

In May of 2011, my life would change immensely. The effects of an incident on that day were far more substantial than I ever imagined.

I'm not one who doesn't finish anything I start, but after trying for about 2 years post-incident, I concluded that stopping the pursuit of my PhD was in my best interest and for those around me. I fully respect, and admire, those who have earned a PhD. I'm happy for my friends in the cohort who finished. The process is grueling and not for the faint of heart. Significant time in prayer and consulting with friends, including my pastor, helped me to see that God was just opening another door for me, but I had to close the open door (the PhD) first, before entering the opened door (becoming an instructor for the Department of Special Education).

I've attended dissertation defenses to support friends, but it's become quite difficult to be there knowing that I "could" be the one up in the front of that room defending. Additionally, I still have this image in my mind:

This is what I would have worm for my FINAL graduation.

Graduation seasons since ending the pursuit of my PhD have been tough. The sheer joy, pop and circumstance, and FINISHING a long, tough journey are all things that just eat me up alive each year. NOT finishing something I started plain sucks; all of the work put into excelling in course work have become grades on a transcripts for the most part.

However, the PhD journey that I was on did prepare me immensely for the position I'm in today, for that I am grateful. Those unfamiliar with the PhD process may think, "Can't you just write a really, really long paper and be done with it?!" I know my grandparents were so excited to see their grandson earn the highest degree; they kept themselves in the best of health, as they truly wanted to share in the celebration.

The celebration would have been EPIC. My speech after my master's degree was lengthy, but the speech had I completed my PhD would have gone on and on!

This quote makes a LOT of sense to me.

Congratulations to ALL graduates this Spring. Celebrate your grand achievements, but remember that the end of one journey requires starting a new one. Embrace that new endeavor with unbridled passion and happiness. I'm happy for all who graduated, but that bitter taste of not finishing something I started is tough to swallow, and this may never go away.

If you can't accomplish a goal, don't view it as the end of the world. It just means looking for the open door, not remaining frozen looking at the closed door!

Lastly, if you've read this, I thank you and kindly ask that you refrain from asking me, "when will I get to call you Dr. Kajiyama," as that will never happen. There's a better shot of the Los Angeles Lakers winning the NBA championship this season, than me earning a PhD (I know the Lakers aren't even in contention this year [2016]!). The reason this "failure" stings so much is due to the fact that I've fought and persevered through all of the many challenges shared above.

My next goal in life is to be happy with someone and have my own family; let's hope I don't mess that up!

High school and college graduates, don't drink. It's not worth it. However, IF you feel you must drink, do NOT drive; call a cab (Yellow Cab Honolulu Taxi - 808-699-9999) for a free and safe ride home! Think about the great life that awaits you!

Until next time...

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